Diabetes 101: Diabetic Alert Dogs Monitor Your Blood Sugar Level

older man with black and white diabetic alert dog

Managing your diabetes can be stressful and overwhelming. What if you could find extra help to assist you with diabetes management?

It’s not a new device or therapy, but a professionally trained diabetic alert dog. These special animals are smart and loyal. When you bring one into your life, he’ll love you wholeheartedly, and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without him.

older black woman poses with diabetic alert dog

What Do Diabetic Alert Dogs Do?

Diabetic alert dogs, also called DADs, are trained to smell the compounds your body releases when your blood sugar is too high or low. They alert you before your blood sugar levels become dangerous.

If your DAD senses a change in your blood sugar, depending on his training, he’ll nudge, lick, hit you with his paw, jump, whine, bark, or stare at you. Some of them are trained to bring you your blood glucose monitor.

How Are Diabetic Alert Dogs Trained?

Mark Ruefenacht, who began Dogs4Diabetics, one of the leading DAD training centers, says that they train the dogs to recognize odors in the air that signal changes in blood sugar in insulin-dependent people. They don’t smell the blood sugar, but bodily compounds made by the liver when your blood sugar drops.

Although scientists aren’t sure of the exact compound the trained dogs smell, they believe it’s the chemical isoprene. When you exhale, the dog can smell isoprene if you have low glucose.

When training DADs, the trainer exposes them to breath samples of low and high blood sugar. After about six months of training, the dogs can tell the difference between the two smells in people. But, complete training takes up to two years.

diabetic alert dog resting on the floor

Are Diabetic Service Dogs Reliable?

You might be wondering if DADs are reliable enough to help you manage your diabetes. A study published in PubMed evaluating the reliability of DADs when they’re living with their human companions, found that the performance was optimal.

The reliability of glycemic alert dogs depends on how well they were trained and if they receive ongoing training. It’s also important to select a dog that’s well-suited to your living conditions.

Certain dog breeds excel at blood sugar level training. The most reliable breeds for DAD training are:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Collies
  • Poodles

No matter how reliable the diabetic service dog is, it doesn’t mean he replaces your individual diabetes management.

How Do Diabetic Alert Dogs Assist Their Owners?

DADs can help you by monitoring blood sugar changes. This way, you have time to take insulin if needed and check your levels with a blood glucose meter. Alert dogs are also trained to wake you up if they detect low blood sugar while you’re sleeping.

Everything has pros and cons, and DADs are no exception. Take these into consideration if you’re thinking about bringing one into your life.

Here are the pros of having a DAD companion:

  • Relieves some of the anxiety about blood glucose levels
  • More control over your blood sugar
  • Decrease in symptoms of low blood sugar
  • More independence
  • The joy of your dog’s companionship

Also, think about the cons of getting a diabetic service dog:

  • DADs can cost $20,000 or more.
  • Weeding out fraudulent dog trainers
  • Receiving false positive alerts

Before you commit to purchasing a diabetic service dog, make sure you research the trainers. Always get your dog from an experienced, reputable DAD trainer. They should also offer training for you, so you and your dog become a working team.

puppy in field of purple flowers, wearing vest that reads "diabetic alert dog in training"

Is a Diabetic Service Dog Right for You?

Now that you know the facts about diabetic alert dogs, you can make an informed decision about whether to bring one into your life. If you decide to invest in one of these incredible dogs, you’ll experience the joy of having him in your life, as well as better diabetes management.

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